Ramadan Begins

Today marks the beginning of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year.  Because it is based on the lunar calendar, the timing shifts each year.  Muslims hold Ramadan as special as the month when the revelation of the Qur’an, the Islamic sacred text, was believed to be given to the Prophet Mohammed.  During this month, observant Muslims are expected to fast from sunup to sundown, as prescribed in Surah (Chaper) 2 of the Qur’an, beginning at verse 183.

With the increased visibility of Islam over the past 20 years, much more attention is being paid to this holiday, despite the fact that only .8% of the US population is Muslim (at least according to Wikipedia).  That’s point eight percent – less than 1%.  Other sites indicate slightly higher percentages, but regardless, it’s very, very small for the amount of press generated.

Of course, even a very small population can make a big difference, culturally.  Every year on either end of Ramadan, for example, British shops recognize increased business from wealthy Muslim families who come to shop and enjoy before the month of Ramadan and afterwards.  Other retailers are well aware of the growing affluence and interest of Muslims, and are tailoring their advertisements accordingly.  Consider all-American Coca Cola’s Ramadan commercial.

According to the Qur’an, fasting precludes food and sexual activity between sunup and sundown.  Many articles are written about the effects of Ramadan.  This one focuses on Muslims in my part of the world who see it as a call to action on behalf of their families and friends trapped in various deadly conflicts in the Middle East.  Time magazine online will have daily meditations on Ramadan from an Imam at Princeton University.  Today’s message stresses that Ramadan’s fasting helps to “bind us together as human beings.  Ramadan is a perfect time to build bridges and reconciliation with friends, neighbors, classmates, and co-workers – regardless of religion.”

These are wonderful sentiments, but hard to make sense of properly.  For comfortable Westerners – both Muslim and non-Muslim – the words are pretty and encouraging, they have all the emotion and substance of a Hallmark card.  Considering the bloodbath going on in Iraq and Syria right now, with Muslims pitted against one another and also attacking Christians, these words echo rather false.  Certainly that is a testament to the brokenness of human nature, not simply the Muslim faith.  Christians have brutalized one another for years in various ways as well.

But looking a bit further than the very brief verse quoted in the Time article provides further troubling material.  Fasting is linked to righteousness, not warm-fuzzies and neighborliness.  A scant seven verses later in the same Surah, Muslims are called to fight against and to specifically kill anyone who has persecuted Muslims (though the meaning of persecution here is undefined.  It seems to encompass among other things displacement and exile, so that Muslims are justified in killing those who have forced them from their homes).  In Surah 2:193, Muslims are exhorted to fight against unbelievers until not only are they are no longer persecuted by them, but until everyone worships Allah.

Bridges may be built during Ramadan, but until everyone worships Allah alone, such bridges are tenuous at best, according to the Qur’an.

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